Your spouse has filed for divorce and you’re wondering what to do next. A divorce starts when one party files and serves the other party with a complaint for divorce, summons, and preliminary injunction. All of this can be confusing, particularly when dealing with emotional stress on top of legal jargon. With that said, understanding the process and the initial documents can allow one to breathe a little easier.
The summons alerts you that your spouse has filed for divorce. The complaint simply indicates that your spouse wishes to terminate the relationship. The preliminary injunction is a court order which prohibits either party from selling, transferring, concealing, disposing of, and/or encumbering marital assets and non-marital assets without either party’s written consent or an order from the court. It further prohibits either person from removing the other party or a child of the parties from a health insurance policy that provides coverage for the other party or the child of the parties. It is extremely important that you follow the preliminary injunction, as it is a court order.
Once you are served with the divorce papers, it’s your turn to respond. You should file an answer with the court within 20 days. The answer acknowledges that you received the divorce papers and alerts the court as to whether you agree or disagree with the parts of the complaint. You can also file a counterclaim for divorce, which allows you to articulate to the court that you also desire a divorce from your spouse.
If your matter involves minor children, your divorce will initially be scheduled in front of a Family Law Magistrate at the District Court in which your divorce was filed. Typically, this first court appearance with the Family Law Magistrate is scheduled shortly after the filing of the case. This first court date is called a case management conference, and the parties are required to appear (along with their attorneys, if they are represented). The case management conference is usually very brief and unless there are agreements, the case is typically scheduled for mediation at some later date. In Maine, if the parties have minor children, the parties are required to participate in mediation if they do not come to court with a full agreement.
If your divorce does not involve minor children, your divorce will be initially scheduled for an uncontested divorce hearing. However, if you do not have a resolution as of that date, then the uncontested divorce hearing is instead a status conference. Typically the judge will suggest that you attend mediation at the status conference unless you have an agreement.
If an agreement is reached through mediation or informally without the need for mediation, the agreement can be presented to the Family Law Magistrate, if minor children are involved, or judge for his or her approval. If approved, so long as 60 days have passed since the filing of the divorce, the judge will issue a divorce judgment and the parties will be divorced. If an agreement cannot be reached on all issues, then a trial will be held in front of a judge. The parties will have an opportunity to present evidence in the form of exhibits and live testimony. After the parties present their case, the judge will issue a decision, which the parties will typically receive in the mail some weeks later.
Under Maine law, the minimum amount of time before a divorce can be granted is 60 days from the time you are served with the initial divorce papers. In reality, however, most cases take much longer than 60 days. If parties can reach a resolution at mediation, the divorce is usually final within 6 months. However, if the case must go to trial, it can take a year or more for the divorce to reach its end-stage.
If you were served with divorce papers or you desire to file for divorce and would like assistance along the way, we encourage you to contact one of our experienced family law attorneys to discuss the situation and determine if legal representation is necessary for your matter.